Day 24: A book you wish more people would've read
Oh, I love being preachy, it's ever so much fun...let me get out my soapbox, hang on...
Ok! Let's do this. I have a lot, I mean a lot of books I think more people should read, but I'm going to try to contain myself here and only list a few. We'll do a countdown, what say? Top 5 required reading?
Look, I know, I know you read it in high school, it's tedious, difficult to understand and has zero bearing on anything in your life. Fine. It's also a work that formed the foundation of English poetry, so, you know, it matters. Here's the thing, the version you "read" (BTW, I know, you didn't really read it, you Cliff's Notes it or watched that Godawful movie and figured you knew enough to get by for that pop quiz) sucked all of the life out of this work. I'll let someone smarter than me say it:
"what we are dealing with is a work of the greatest imaginative vitality, a masterpiece where the structuring of the tale is as elaborate as the beautiful contrivances of its language. Its narrative elements may belong to a previous age but as a work of art it lives in its own continuous present, equal to our knowledge of reality in the present time." Come on, y'all, it's time to actually to read Beowulf and this edition, the Seamus Heaney translation, is amazing and haunting and beautiful and, and, and.
Well, now that you've read Beowulf, it's time to hear the other side of the story. Honestly, I remember when I first read this book, AP English with Mr. Leonard, it was eye opening for me. It's seems that now having a piece based around an anti-hero is old hat, but there is something different about Grendel. To take not just a monster, but rather THE monster and explore his motivations, hear his inner dialogue, is an incredibly powerful device.
You've probably read Women of Brewster Place or Linden Hills, but I'd bet you've not read Mama Day. Set on the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia, Mama Day takes family, race, history, magic and weaves them all together in a powerful, beautiful and challenging story. Stunning.
I studied in Edinburgh, Scotland for a while in college, and while I was there I was given the opportunity to attend Seamus Heaney's reading of his new book, The Spirit Level: Poems - Seamus Heaney. I've never had an experience like it. He and Liam O'Flynn were featured together, so you'd have a poem with a little story behind it and an accompanying reel or lament on the Uilleann pipes. Brilliant point by gorgeous counterpoint, back and forth like the most fantastic night out in your favorite Irish pub, story-song, story-song, a cadence of it's own...sigh, just the most glorious evening. (I got him to sign my book, and one for my Irish Lit prof. too!). I'm adding the selected poems, in addition to Spirit Level, because it's an anthology and it's where I started on my journey to read everything he ever wrote. We lost Seamus Heaney this year and we're poorer for it.
As you might have gathered, I'm a bit of a literature geek. There are some works we should all read, because they inform our collective culture, they shape our societies and they make us strive to be better human beings. No one denies the importance of The Divine Comedy, but there is no better translation of Inferno than this edition by former poet laureate of the US, Robert Pinsky. He has taken this translation and returned the poetry to it. So many of the English (and I'd wager other languages, but I don't know that for certain) translations of Inferno have lost the beauty of language that Dante Alighieri infused into the work. This is poetry and Pinsky has done a masterful job of reminding us of that. Also, it's just an awesome story, truly. I can take or leave Purgatorio and Paradiso, but Inferno, now that's the stuff!
This was my number 1, but then I saw the little "Oprah's Book Club" tag on it and realized that many, many people have read it, so me plugging it matters little. This book, however, oh this book gutted me. You know that expression, "xyz book changed my life!"? That was The Road for me. Not so much that it changed my actions, motivations, behaviors, but rather it changed how I thought about literature, about story craft and about how we communicate with each other. This book is what all other dystopian books wish they be. I remember reading it out on my deck. It was late fall and as I read I could see the light dim, hear the leaves fall and feel a chill was in the air. I could feel the season dying as I read this book and as I finished I just sat outside until the light was gone.